(In the late 1800’s, the battle between two competing electric technologies, AC and DC currents, turned brutal. For Thomas Edison, it was a life and death struggle. This is a fictionalized version of true events in history.)
July 30, 1888
Two rows of eyes glittered in the dim light. The stage blazed like daylight. Harold smiled at the thought of whose light bulbs lined the heights above him.
"As you can see, gentlemen, the delivery of direct current to the animal caused obvious pain and distress, but was ultimately harmless. The animal is shaken, but healthy."
An open hand directed attention to the apparatus. The dog stopped pulling at the rope around its neck. Its haunches settled on the metal plate and shook.
The assistant stood near in case it whined again.
"All electricity is dangerous. It is not a plaything. But the system powered by General Electric, gentlemen, direct current, is orderly, controlled, and predictable. In short it is safe so long as reasonable prudence and precautions are employed. To err is human. Except in the most egregious circumstances, a mistake with direct current will not be paid for with your life."
A flashbulb captured Harold's beneficent pose. The reporters muttered.
It was the man Harold was watching.
"Please hold all questions to the end of the demonstration. Thank you."
"Mr. Brown are you employed by Thomas Edison and the General Electric Company?"
The assistant left his position and moved toward the audience in the darkness. Another man angled toward the reporter from the rear.
"You all know my interest in this topic," Harold said. "After I witnessed that young boy so pitifully struck down by a telegraph wire powered by the Westinghouse system, I've made it my mission to educate the public on the dangers of that ill-advised technology."
The two men whispered to the reporter. A hand clamped on his shoulder. Harold continued.
"Now, gentlemen, we've met the cultured and refined force of direct current. But the invisible world harbors a darkness and evil counterpoised to this source of good. 'Alternating current' is an innocent and misleading name for this primal, destructive force. Where direct current is the calm river flowing through the countryside, alternating current is a mountain cataract, white waters boiling and crashing and destroying."
Harold's voice was rising.
"It's like passion unleashed. Anger, hatred, lust, burning below the surface of the copper wire. It deceives us with its silence."
Harold disconnected the direct current generator and engaged the Westinghouse circuit.
"You see. No difference. Just the hum of the generator. Nothing to alert you to the mortal danger."
He moved to the switch. The dog was panting.
"But it's a lie, gentlemen. That fury dipped from the ancient forces of chaos and devastation cannot be tamed or domesticated."
Eyes began to shift from Harold to the dog. Harold fixed on the representatives of the New York Board of Electrical Control.
"When you invite Mr. Westinghouse into your home, gentlemen, you invite the fires of the devil himself!"
His hand touched the switch and fingers curled.
"Do you want this crossing the sky over your heads? Do you want this in the walls of your homes? The devil is hungry, gentlemen. He is waiting to devour you!"
Metal touched metal. The circuit closed.
The jumping motion of the dog didn't clear the plates. The paws seemed welded down.
Harold's voice was maniacal. "Do you see? Do you want this to be your child?"
The reporters were shouting.
The popping sounds deepened and something began to burn.
On to Part 3.
Back to Part 1.
(If you enjoy this kind of fictionalized history series, feel free to check out The X-Ray Martyrs to meet a couple of the many people who died before we understood the dangers of radiation.)